Heaven's Gate

39 deaths

The only "doomsday-cult-web-design-team" of the Archives. On March 26, 1997, 39 members of "Heaven's Gate" decided to "shed their containers" and get on a companion craft hiding in the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet. The resulting mass suicide of 21 women and 18 men, ages 26 to 72, all sporting buzzcuts, dressed alike in trendy black pants, oversized shirts, and brand new black Nikes, was unlike any other mass suicide in the Archives. The dead, discovered by two sheriff deputies after an anonymous tip, were found in an antiseptic multi-million dollar mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, an exclusive community north of San Diego. They were all lying on their backs on cots and bunkbeds throughout the mansion covered with triangular purple shrouds with their hands to their sides in a prone position. Officers at the scene said it appeared, "as if they had fallen asleep."

The Heaven Gaters died in three shifts over a three-day period after celebrating their last meal on earth at a Marie Callender's in Carlsbad. 15 cultist died the first day, 15 the second and the remaining nine the third day. As one set of cultist ingested the poison, a lethal dose of phenobarbital mixed in with pudding and/or applesauce and chased with a shot of vodka, they would lie down and another cultist would use a plastic bag to speed up the dying. A frighteningly anal-retentive mass suicide, the cultist would clean up after each round of killing. Before the last two killed themselves, they took out the trash leaving the rented mansion in perfect order. Wanting to be helpful even after dead, all bodies had some sort of identification. Strangely, though, they also had five-dollar bill and change in their pockets and small suitcases neatly tucked under the cots and beds.

In their own special blend of millennial prophecy, the Heaven Gaters -- after watching too many episodes of the "X-Files" -- decided that, after 20 years of waiting, a spaceship flying behind the Hale-Bopp comet was finally coming to pick them up. As the Heaven's Gate web site cryptically states, "The joy is that our Older Member in the Evolutionary Level above human has made it clear to us that Hale-Bopp's approach is the 'marker' we've been waiting for. ... Our 22 years of classroom here on planet Earth is finally coming to conclusion 'graduation' from the Human Evolutionary Level. We are happily prepared to leave 'this world' and go with Ti's crew."

Ti refers to Bonnie Lu Trusdale a cofounder of the cult who died of cancer in 1985. The cult first surfaced as the "UFO Cult" in 1975 when Marshall H. Applewhite, a sexually confused music teacher and opera singer, met Nettles who was working as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital where Applegate was looking for a cure for his homosexual impulses. Years later, together with seven other members of the cult, Applegate was surgically castrated leading one to believe that he finally took care of those "bothersome instincts."

At first Trusdale and Applewhite became known as "The Two." They survived nomadically under different -- yet colorful -- names: "The Him and the Her Cult," "Bo and Peep," "Ti and Do, "Human Individual Metamorphosis," "H.I.M.," "Total Overcomers Anonymous," "Computer Nomads" "Higher Source," and finally, "Heaven's Gate." At one point they managed to amass more than 200 members as they crisscrossed the country holding meetings in public places, promising followers celestial bliss and a ride in a UFO. There was even a TV movie made about them called The Mysterious Two, starring John Forsythe and Phyllis Pointer. Prophetically, in a 1979 book called "Messengers of Deception," Jacques Valee quoted a woman who had met "The Two" saying: "These two people are dangerous. It is not hypnosis. It is thought transplant." (Thanks to our friends at 60 Greatest Conspiracies for digging up this little tidbit)

Heaven's Gate, and it's business branch, Higher Source, existed as a new-age blend of Christianity and ufology. In their last incarnation they proudly supported themselves by making web sites at cut-rate prices. In their web site, dubbed by Time Magazine the most elaborate suicide note in history, they state that suicide was wrong for nonmembers but an acceptable way for cult members to ascend to a higher level of life. There are other references throughout the site to the sieges at Waco, Texas, Ruby Ridge, Idaho. Adding fuel to the millennial mix, a purpose statement the group obliquely links a philosophy of bodies moving on to other levels to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Allegedly Do claimed to have been born in a different planet and that his mission on earth was the same as that of Jesus. In a bizarre recruiting tape with messianic overtones Applewhite -- looking very much like My Favorite Martian with bugged-out eyes -- states that, "the planet is about to be recycled. The last chance to survive or evacuate is to leave with us."

In the Higher Source Web site, the group proudly proclaims that they are a sophisticated web site design company that offers programming, systems analysis, and computer security services, as well as Java and VRML. "We at Higher Source not only cater to customizing Web sites that will enhance your company image, but strive to make your transition into the 'world of cyberspace' a very easy and fascinating experience." Tom Goodspeed, manager of the San Diego Polo Club, who had the group design their Web site thought the did "excellent work" and were "very talented. "They were some of the most pleasant people I've ever worked with." Others thought they were harmless "space cadets."

The section "The Difference" in the Higher Source Web site states: "The individuals at the core of our group have worked closely together for over 20 years. During those years, each of us has developed a high degree of skill and know-how through personal discipline and concerted effort. We try to stay positive in every circumstance and put the good of a project above any personal concerns or artistic egos. By sustaining this attitude and conduct, we have achieved a high level of efficiency and quality in our work."

On May 6, 1997, two more members fo the cult decided to "exit their vehicles" and join their classmates and teachers in an Encinitas Holiday Inn Express four miles from the cult's Rancho Santa Fe mausoleum. One died, the other was found unconscious and is now in critical condition in Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas.

The two men were found with small tote bags next to them, dressed in star trekking black, wearing black Nikes, with purple shrouds next to them, and five dollar bills in their pockets. Wayne Cooke of Las Vegas was found dead with a plastic bag on his head. Chuck Humphrey of Denver was still alive with a plastic bag near him suggesting that he had second thoughts about dying. Like those who went before, they both ingested phenobarbital washed down with vodka.

Cooke, who's wife was among the 39 cultist who committed suicide in March, said in an interview on CBS' 60 Minutes: "I wish I had the strength to have stuck it out and gotten stronger and continued to be a part of that crew." On his videotaped "exit statement" which was sent to family members and CNN, the star-crossed cultist said he wanted to "assure people, number one, that I'm sane and I'm happy. I want very much to join my classmates and my teachers ... I've never doubted my connection with them." He concluded his comments by saying "Goodbye" with a smile.

At a San Diego news conference after the March mass suicide, Humphrey, 56, said, "I left the group because it had been 15 years, because many of the things we were told were going to happen didn't... I got tired of waiting." In his "exit statement" he erroneously states: "By now you should be aware that I ... too have exited my vehicle... I do not pretend to have accomplished my task of overcoming this human vehicle and gaining the degree of control I would have liked, but nonetheless, I know who I am and that I must go back with them whether I am ready or not... I'd rather gamble on missing the bus this time than staying on this planet and risk losing my soul." Sadly for him, he both missed the bus and lost his soul.

According to Dick Joslyn, a former cultist, Humphrey had grown frustrated by the lack of attention given to the group's ideas. "He was a little discouraged by the inability to get the word out. He made it clear to me that when his work was done, he would go too. Humphrey, one of the brains behind the Higher Source web design team, "was supposed to spread information about the 'next level' and maintain the Internet site." Apparently, when someone "commandeered" the site, he tried to kill himself.